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Syria and Jordan

Jordan is a relatively small country situated at the junction of the Levantine and Arabian areas of the Middle East. The country is bordered on the north by Syria, to the east by Iraq, and by Saudi Arabia on the east and south. Syrian-Jordanian relations have fluctuated between normal diplomatic relations and armed confrontation. At times each side has attempted to subvert the other and has supported and provided refuge to the other's internal opposition groups.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed by Britain, France and Russia in 1916, divided the area into zones of permanent colonial influence. The agreement recognized French interests in Greater Syria and northern Iraq, while acknowledging British designs on a belt of influence from the Mediterranean to the Gulf to protect its trade and communications links with the Indian subcontinent. Although the Sykes-Picot Agreement was modified considerably in practice, it established a framework for the mandate system which was imposed in the years following the war. Near the end of 1918, the Hashemite Emir Faisal set up an independent government in Damascus. However, his demand at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference for independence throughout the Arab world was met with rejection from the colonial powers. In 1920 and for a brief duration, Faisal assumed the throne of Syria and his elder brother Abdullah was offered the crown of Iraq by the Iraqi representatives.

Jordanian interest in Syria began in 1921, when the founder of the Amirate of Transjordan, Amir Abdallah, sought to advance into Syria, from which his brother had been expelled by the French, and which he regarded as part of the promised Hashimite kingdom. Even as late as 1946, when both countries gained independence, King Abdallah did not abandon his plan to become king of Syria. Syria considered Abdallah's schemes for an expanded Hashimite kingdom as intervention in its domestic affairs and officially complained to the Arab League. During the 1950s, Syria mounted a propaganda campaign against Abdallah and granted political asylum to opposition elements from Jordan, including political asylum in 1957 to Jordanian Army officers and civilian politicians who had conspired to topple King Hussein. Tensions mounted in 1958 when Hussein's private jet en route to Europe was intercepted by Syrian MiGs and forced to return to Amman. Also, Syrian-trained groups infiltrated Jordan to carry out subversive acts, culminating in the August 1960 assassination of Jordanian Prime Minister Haza al Majali, whose killers escaped to Syria.

Syrian-Jordanian tensions were exacerbated in the late 1960s, following the rift between Jordan and the PLO, with Syria supporting the Palestinians against Jordan. In September 1970, Syria sent an armored division into Jordan to reinforce the Palestinian forces under attack by Hussein's army. By July 1971, Syria had broken off diplomatic relations with Jordan over the issue.

The October 1973 War resulted in a gradual improvement in relations, as Jordan contributed to the Syrian military effort. In 1976 Jordan was the only Arab country to support the Syrian invasion and subsequent role in Lebanon. However, another break between Syria and Jordan occurred in 1977, following Jordan's tacit support for Egyptian President Sadat's peace initiative. During this period Syria charged Jordan with harboring members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had escaped from Syria. This charge led to new tension in December 1980, with military forces of both sides deployed along the border. As a counterweight to Syria, Jordan improved its relations with Iraq, and became one of its primary suppliers. In 1981 Jordan accused Syria of being behind the kidnapping of the Jordanian military attach in Beirut and charged Rifaat al Assad, President Assad's brother, with masterminding a plot to assassinate the Jordanian prime minister. By the mid-1980s, rapprochement efforts were again underway.

The February 1985 agreement between King Hussein of Jordan and Yasir Arafat of the PLO to form a joint delegation to negotiate with Israel was anathema to Syrian policy as outlined in the Assad Doctrine. Consequently, Syria exerted strong political pressure on Jordan to change its stance. For example, observers accused Syria of unleashing dissident Palestinian terrorists of the Abu Nidal organization, which it controlled, against Jordanian targets in retaliation for Jordan's pursuit of an independent policy. Syria also spread propaganda to persuade Jordanians that their king was giving in to Israeli demands without getting concessions from Israel. Syria also convinced other Arab rulers that Jordan was treacherously dealing with Israel. Within a year, Syria seemed to have succeeded in weaning Jordan from the moderate camp and bringing it into the Syrian sphere. The December 30, 1985, visit by King Hussein to Damascus marked the end of seven years of unremitting hostility between the two nations. In conformity with the Assad Doctrine, Jordan renounced "partial, separate, and direct talks with Israel" and issued an abject apology and admission of guilt for having harbored and supported anti-Syrian Muslim Brotherhood terrorists in the early 1980s.

In the new century Jordan became increasingly worried about the Shiite crescent of Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and about Syria's growing relationship with Iran. The Jordanians, like their Sunni brethren in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, were deeply worried and irritated over the deepening alliance between Syria and Iran. A lack of trust developed between Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and Jordan's King Abdullah II. In addition, the Hashemite Kingdom sees itself as the keeper of the keys to Mecca and the defender of Sunni Islam.

Asad's 04 March 2006 speech before the General Congress of Arab Parties when he implicitly criticized Jordan for pursuing national versus Arab interests. Syria on 26 April 2006 publicly rejected Jordanian accusations that arms were smuggled from Syria to Jordan or that a senior Hamas official was behind such an operation, according to the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA). According to SANA, "Hamas leaders based in Syria are political figures carrying out pure political and information missions and are committed to the Syrian authorities' stand which doesn't permit any military activity on its territory." Some Syrians believe the accusations stem from Jordanian pique over the SARG's announcement a week earlier that it would offer refuge to a a number of Iraqi Palestinians stranded on the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

On November 19, 2007, Jordan and Syria issued a joint statement following the summit meeting between His Majesty King Abdullah and Syrian President Bashar Assad. The summit came as part of both leaders determination to strengthen and deepen cooperation between the two brotherly countries in all fields, and to reach practical and concrete solutions to various key bilateral issues. Moreover, both countries have an important role in strengthening Arab cooperation and protecting higher Arab interests in the face of regional challenges. Bilateral issues of significance to both countries were also discussed during the summit meeting and agreement was reached on serious and effective solutions, especially on issues related to economic cooperation, water, borders, detainees and security.

Both leaders emphasised the importance of strengthening economic relations between the two countries and facilitating trade exchange while underscoring the importance of increasing bilateral trade towards higher levels. In this respect, several agreements have been marked for signature including an agreement to provide Jordan with its need of wheat from brotherly Syria to be concluded during the next meeting of the Joint Jordanian-Syrian Higher Committee.

On April 5, 2010, during an interview by Wall Street Journal, on how Jordan's relationship with Syria, His Majesty King Abdullah II expressed that "Jordan's relationship with Syria is better than it has been in a long time; probably the best it's ever been. ... So the engagement now between the Syrian and Jordanian government on economic cooperation are at an all-time high. The Israeli-Syrian issue is obviously high on their priority list."

On 19 January 2012 King Abdullah II described the situation in Syria as a complicated puzzle. In an interview with CNN's Suzanne Kelly in Washington Thursday, the King said he didn't see Syria going through many changes. "I think what you're seeing in Syria today, you will continue to see for a while longer," the King said. "It's a very complicated puzzle and there is no simple solution. I don't think anybody has a clear answer on what to do about Syria".

On 17 March 2012 Jordan categorically denied reports that Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army. State Minister for Media Affairs and Communication, Rakan al-Majali, told United Press International, (UPI), that the reports are baseless and Jordan has not changed its approach towards Syria.

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